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M I K E    G R I F F I T H


To beat Huskers Vols must play smart, strong

By Mike Griffith News-Sentinel sportswriter
January 2, 2000

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Tennessee has spent the better part of two seasons crowing about a lack of respect.

Tonight, the Vols have a chance to do something about it when they play Nebraska in Fiesta Bowl.

Tennessee beat Florida State here last year in Sun Devil Stadium to win the national championship. Victories over the Seminoles and Cornhuskers in back-to-back years would solidify the Vols' place on the top tier of college football.

Tennessee showed its speed and talent at the skill positions in beating Florida State.

To beat Nebraska, the Vols will need to show muscle, depth and discipline.

"Nebraska is not real flashy," UT defensive tackle Darwin Walker said. "I think they'll try to grind it out to get into the end zone, the old-school way of doing it."

That's what happened two years ago in the Orange Bowl, when the Huskers humiliated the Vols 42-17, rolling up 409 yards rushing.

"In all my years of playing football, I hadn't ever been spanked like that before," UT linebacker Raynoch Thompson said. "Deep inside, Nebraska probably thinks they can push us over again. We definitely want revenge."

The Vols' defenders need to hold that thought when the Cornhuskers' linemen are diving at their knees and cut blocking them. UT defensive end Shaun Ellis was ashamed to admit it, but the last time these teams met the Vols quit.

"To tell you the truth, we played the first half, but in the second half they just drove right down the field on us," Ellis said. "That's the only time I remember that (quitting) happening. There was a lot of bickering going on. We just weren't ourselves."

Tennessee's defensive plan isn't that much different this time. The biggest adjustment is that the Vols will go into this game planning to use more players.

Defensive coordinator John Chavis plans to start rotating players on the game's second series.

Tennessee will be aggressive getting its safeties involved in the run game and will challenge Nebraska to throw the football.

This time, the Vols' defense is hoping for a little help from the offense. UT's defense was on the field for 46 plays in the first half of the 1998 Orange Bowl, as the offense continually went three-and-out behind an ineffective Peyton Manning.

The Vols are a better balanced team now with a different personality.

"We've definitely changed," offensive tackle Chad Clifton said. "Before we were pass, pass, pass. Now, we'll come off the ball and hit you with the run."

Tennessee's first challenge will be to establish a running game. The Vols more than likely will do that with sweeps and counters.

Tailback Jamal Lewis has had a good week of preparation and has the speed to beat Nebraska's defenders to the corner.

The way Cornhuskers' cornerback Mike Brown sees it, it's UT's only chance.

"If teams can't run the ball on us," Brown said, "they can't beat us."

Nebraska also will be conscious of UT quarterback Tee Martin. The Cornhuskers will try to pin him in the pocket by bringing their ends upfield and will blitz often.

"When we're blitzing, I don't think anyone can drive down the field on us," Brown said. "If we can contain him (Martin), it will be a long night for them."

Nebraska nose tackle Steve Warren said the Vols' offensive line will be challenged to stop them.

"We disguise our blitzes so well, you never know what's coming," Warren said. "There are probably about four or five different calls we'll have to be aware of."

Martin, ever the confident warrior, has challenged Nebraska to bring it on.

"If they blitz, that's going to open up the possibility of big plays," said Martin, who could do as much damage with his feet as his arm. "You can't show their defense a weakness. The defense sees blood, they attack it."

Tennessee likely will mix in short passes, screens and bootlegs to slow the Nebraska rush.

The big yardage will be gained on the outside by exploiting the Huskers' lack of speed up front.

"I don't have a crystal ball, I don't know what's going to happen," UT coach Phillip Fulmer said. "But we're prepared for this football game."

TERRY BOWDEN'S VIEW: "When I was an assistant at Florida State we had a lot of success against Nebraska (4-0 from 1987 through 1993) and it forced them to start recruiting more speed. Now they're power on offense and pure speed on defense. Before, Nebraska couldn't cover the pass. Florida State passed the football, and we outscored them.

"Tennessee is not going to be able to dominate them with the run. They'll maybe pass first to set up the run. Tennessee plays good enough defense that this will be a close game. Nebraska is one great tailback short of being a typical Nebraska team

"I think Tee Martin and his receivers have to win this game. Those receivers shouldn't be so young anymore. I think Tennessee has to mix it up, and they can do that. Tennessee is not just a speed team, so Phillip Fulmer can hammer the ball and let his defense keep it tight.

"But Nebraska hasn't seen a quarterback that combines the run and the pass like Tee. The statistics don't bear out how good he is, just his record, and that's 22-2."

X FACTORS: Tennessee: Jamal Lewis. Nebraska: Bobby Newcombe.

KEY STATISTIC: Rushing yardage.

FINAL ANALYSIS: Tennessee 25, Nebraska 24.

Mike Griffith may be reached at griffith@knews.com.

In-depth columnists
John Adams
Maria M. Cornelius
Dan Fleser
Mike Griffith
Gary Lundy
Mike Strange

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